85. Memorandum From Secretary of State Haig to President Reagan 1


  • Letter to Brezhnev

As you know, we have now embarked on a public campaign within the Alliance to take the political offensive away from the Soviets. The purpose is to demonstrate to Western publics that it is the Soviets, not the United States, who are blocking the path to a more stable East-West relationship, and that for our part we are ready for better relations if Moscow is ready to show greater restraint.

To get this campaign off the ground, I believe that you should send a letter to Brezhnev timed with the start of the fall session of the U.N. General Assembly describing your views on the future direction of US-Soviet relations. Although we would not release the text of the [Page 253] letter, we envisage briefing the press on its main themes in order to create the maximum possible impact on Western opinion.

The proposed letter (attached) makes some of the same points that I plan to use with Gromyko in my talks next week. The basic message is that the U.S. is prepared to defend its interests by whatever means necessary, but that a more constructive relationship is possible if the Soviets exercise restraint.


That you sign the attached letter to Brezhnev.2


Letter From President Reagan to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev 3

[Begin text.]

Dear President Brezhnev:

As we begin the fall session of the United Nations General Assembly and approach the meetings between our Foreign Ministers, I thought it would be useful for me to describe to you some of my thoughts on the future direction of U.S.-Soviet relations.

Let me say at the outset that the United States is vitally interested in the peaceful resolution of international tensions and in a more constructive and stable relationship with your country. We have repeatedly demonstrated our willingness to settle disagreements by negotiations and to observe scrupulously our international commitments.

I believe, however, that a great deal of the present tension in the world is due to actions by the Soviet Government. As we and our Allies have repeatedly stated, two aspects of Soviet behavior are of particular concern to us:

—First, the Soviet Union’s pursuit of unilateral advantage in various parts of the globe and its repeated resort to the direct and indirect use of force in regional conflicts. The role of Cuba in Africa and Latin America is particularly disturbing and unacceptable to us.

[Page 254]

—Second, the USSR’s unremitting and comprehensive military buildup over the past 15 years, a buildup which in our view far exceeds purely defensive requirements and carries disturbing implications of a search for military superiority.

Despite these trends, we are committed to a dialogue with the Soviet Union. We are deeply concerned over the threat to mankind in the age of nuclear weapons. I have stated publicly that the United States is ready to engage in discussions with the USSR that would lead to genuine arms reductions. The existing stockpiles of these weapons and ongoing programs are such that only a serious effort at arms reductions would contribute to the objective which we both share, namely, lifting the threat of nuclear annihilation which hangs over mankind.

While the United States is committed to a stable and peaceful world, it will never accept a position of strategic disadvantage. Because the Soviet Union has, over the past years, embarked on a major program to improve its strategic forces, the United States must also upgrade its forces. We have no desire to tax our societies with a costly, burdensome, and dangerous build-up of armaments. The United States, however, will invest whatever is needed to maintain a secure strategic posture.

The meetings this month between our Foreign Ministers will, I assume, set the time and place for negotiations between our two countries on what we term “theater nuclear forces.” We are deeply committed to achieving a military balance in this area—a balance which has been upset by the unprecedented buildup of military forces by your country in recent years, especially the deployment of the SS–20 missiles. Furthermore, as we have stated at the Madrid meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, we are prepared to participate in negotiations to fashion a coherent system of commitments on European security that are verifiable and militarily significant.

With our Allies and other concerned nations, the United States is willing to pursue negotiated solutions to the problems that threaten world peace, including the presence of occupation forces in Afghanistan and Kampuchea. Soviet readiness to resolve the Afghanistan problem on the basis of a prompt withdrawal would go far toward restoring the international confidence and trust necessary for the improvement of East-West relations. The Vietnamese invasion and occupation of Kampuchea has earned widespread condemnation from the international community as a breach of accepted norms of conduct and a threat to peace. I call on your government to exert its influence over the Government of Vietnam to withdraw its troops from Kampuchea.

In sum, the United States is more interested in actions which further the cause of world peace than in words. We are fully committed to solving outstanding differences by peaceful means, but we are not willing to accept double standards of international behavior. Words [Page 255] and public statements are, however, important. A major contribution to the reduction of world tensions would be for your country to curb the escalating campaign of anti-Americanism and disinformation both inside the Soviet Union and abroad, a campaign which only serves to poison the political atmosphere.

Mr. President, my country stands ready to begin the search for a better U.S.-Soviet relationship. We are prepared to discuss with the Soviet Union the full range of issues which divide us, to seek significant, verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons, to expand trade, and to increase contacts at all levels of our societies. I am hopeful that the meetings between Secretary of State Haig and Foreign Minister Gromyko will start a process leading toward such a relationship.

For such a process to bear fruit, your country must understand the need for greater restraint in the international arena. At the same time, let me add that the United States is fully prepared to take your interests into account, if you are prepared to do the same with ours. If we can succeed in establishing a framework of mutual respect for each other’s interests and mutual restraint in the resolution of international crises, I think we will have created a much more solid and enduring basis for U.S.-Soviet relations than we have ever had before.

End text.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Head of State File: USSR: General Secretary Brezhnev (8105567, 8105658). No classification marking.
  2. At the end of the memorandum, an unknown hand wrote: “President approved letter 9/20/81.”
  3. Secret. Transmitted to the Embassy in Moscow on September 21 in telegram 252408 which is the copy printed here. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D81044–0892)